Spark boss' big challenge to NZ corporatesSave
By Fran O'Sullivan
Spark chief executive Simon Moutter is challenging big New Zealand corporates to get behind and back Kiwi early-stage, innovative businesses.
Moutter has set an aspirational goal to raise a $100 million-plus funding vehicle to help commercialise globally oriented New Zealand intellectual property produced by early stage businesses.
He recently led the inaugural New Zealand Innovation Mission to Israel - a 50-strong group that included Spark chairman Mark Verbiest and other delegates from business, government and academia.
The mission's objective was to learn from the world-leading Israeli innovation ecosystem and forge new business collaboration opportunities between New Zealand and Israel.
It found the biggest gap in the New Zealand eco-system is commercialisation capital and expertise; particularly at the accelerator and venture capital end.
Says Moutter: "It's also clear that it's predominantly big business and corporates that are missing in action in terms of contributing R&D capital and expertise."
Moutter, who has the backing of the Spark board to start a conversation on this score, will flesh out the mission learnings during a lunchtime address at Spark HQ tomorrow.
The Icehouse chief executive Andy Hamilton applauds the initiative.
"The leadership shown by Simon Moutter in challenging big business in New Zealand to invest more, engage more and drive value more is timely and really important to our future," Hamilton said.
"My sense is that they will be excited by the opportunity that exists to support, partner, invest and acquire some great Kiwi businesses who will we hope go onto being scaled in their own right."
Hamilton said there was "much potential" for large businesses in New Zealand to play a role in scaling up smaller firms.
"Both in investing more, but also in leading the charge on diversifying our economy in terms of geographic focus," he said.
"When 50 per cent of our large firms are only focused on the NZ market, which is over 1500 firms, that is just not good enough.
"Our big firms need to get bigger, they need to get more diversified and they need to move up the value chain and we need to see more offshore direct investment (ODI) now that foreign direct investment (FDI) is starting to improve."
Two New Zealand companies at the forefront of innovation - Fonterra and Vector NZ - are supportive.
Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings launched a programme called "Disrupt" earlier this year to unleash innovation within the dairy giant.
"We piloted this in three of our markets (New Zealand, China & Australia) and had 700 plus people come through the programme with over 100 start-up ideas and submissions," Spierings said.
"Our finalists competed in a Facebook-style Hackathon weekend, and a few were selected to bring these initiatives to life.
"These finalists are currently in acceleration and we look forward to seeing what they have achieved in a few months' time to create truly innovative dairy ventures."
Spierings says Fonterra's next step is to take the programme to additional markets so more of its people can get involved "whilst also considering how we can engage with the wider start-up ecosystem in New Zealand and abroad".
Vector chief executive Simon Mackenzie, who was on the Israel mission, has long been a leader in partnering with innovative start-ups and smaller ventures to deliver new innovations in the energy space.
Mackenzie believes there will be a lot of support for the Moutter-led initiative.
"A lot of it is about communication and building awareness," he says.
"There is a lot of stuff going on but people don't necessarily get to hear about it."